Daniil Trifonov, Royal Festival Hall

Rebecca Franks enjoys the Russian pianist's Festival Hall debut

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Daniil Trifonov, Royal Festival Hall
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Daniil Trifonov was in town last night, making a London Royal Festival Hall debut every bit as overwhelming as his New York Carnegie Hall outing – which is preserved on disc, and one of the must-hear recitals of recent times. If the stand-out item there was Chopin's 24 Preludes, his intense account of the Liszt B Minor Sonata pointed the way to this programme, which coalesced around that sometimes visionary and always virtuosic pianist-composer.

Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes are an awesome challenge for any pianist – over the 12 titled pieces, there are wild leaps all over the keyboard, double thirds, double octaves, hurtlingly fast runs at a soft dynamic – you name the virtuosic demand, and it’s probably there. But these are also pieces that conjure up falling snow in ‘Chasse-neige’, that venture into Impressionist territory in ‘Harmonies du soir’ and blossom into bel canto melody in ‘Ricordanza’.

It’s hard to list all the qualities a pianist needs – stamina, virtuosity, sensitivity, clarity and poetry must be among them – but safe to say Daniil Trifonov, the 23-year-old Russian pianist who walked away with the top prize at both the Tchaikovsky and Rubinstein competitions in 2011, has them all. Even when the wild horses of the utterly fiendish 'Mazeppa' threatened to tear away, leaving Trifonov behind exhausted, he regained his control and energy, making music of these demanding (for both listener and performer) pieces.

A last-minute alteration to the first half saw Trifonov swap Beethoven’s Sonata No. 32 in C minor for Rachmaninov’s Variations on a Theme of Chopin, a work perhaps less well-known than the composer’s other variation sets, on themes by Corelli and Paganini. It made musical sense: the work preceding it was Liszt’s piano transcription of Bach’s Organ Fantasy and Fugue in G minor. So here we had two pianist-composers paying homage to composers of the past; and while Liszt undoubtedly revered and championed Beethoven, the Rachmaninov also seemed to have a stronger kinship with the Etudes.

In the Bach-Liszt, Trifonov’s fulsome tone, never forced and always satisfying, came into its own in the thick chordal writing and chromatic harmonies of the Fantasy, which turned into an amost lyrical fluidity for the lone voice that opened the following Fugue. But the Rachmaninov, which followed without a break for applause, was the true triumph here. Moments of grandeur alternated with quicksilver fingerwork and long-spun melodies of ineffable beauty all the while tinged with that Rachmaninovian sense of underlying turbulence and darkness. When Chopin's theme returned, its few bars seem to have accumulated all the emotional power and resonance of what had gone before.

Debussy’s Reflets dans l’eau was the encore, transforming all that Lisztian virtuosity into cleansing cool, the rippling water a balm for the soul.

 

 

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  • Article Type: | Blog |
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